Saturday, October 30, 2010

Irish Eyes Aren't Smiling

It was a terrible week for the Notre Dame football program, which lost a student manager to a scaffold accident, then lost at home to Tulsa, 28-27. That makes the Irish 4-5 on the season and 3-3 at home (and with ranked Utah coming to South Bend next week, the home record could soon drop to 3-4).

Maybe it's time for NBC to start rethinking its affiliation with Notre Dame. The network has owned the exclusive rights to broadcast Irish home games since 1991, for which it pays the school around $9 million per year. But Notre Dame hasn't been Notre Dame for about 20 years now, and last year the package had the lowest ratings its ever had.

NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol continues to defend the contract (which was extended until 2015 a couple of years ago), saying, "We're big believers in how Notre Dame time and time again over all these generations has maintained its strength. I don't see that going away." But Ebersol also said "if the vast majority of the years has Notre Dame competitive in that top 10 or for that top 10 through the majority of the season, then we'll be very happy."

It's painfully clear that for yet another season Notre Dame is nowhere near the top 10. NBC made money on the deal when the Irish were consistent winners and playing at home against nationally recognized teams. This year's home schedule includes Western Michigan, Tulsa and Utah. Notre Dame even moved the start times for its home games from 2:30 to 1:3o Eastern so as to avoid competition with games kicking off at the same time on ESPN and CBS, but that hasn't helped much.

If new coach Brian Kelly can't turn around the Irish soon, NBC would be wise to seriously consider dropping the package when it runs out. It certainly doesn't make much financial sense to pay so much for so little return. Notre Dame already has a sweetheart deal with the BCS on top of its sweetheart deal with NBC, but if the network decides to pull out, it might further push the Irish toward a conference affiliation, such as with the Big 10. And you know the Big 10 Network would love to have the Irish, no matter what their record.


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